1. Diwali Lighting the Diwali lanterns or diyas
Diwali, or Deepavali, is also known as the Festival of Lights and is India's most anticipated and biggest festival of the year. Diwali is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness with fireworks, clay lanterns called diyas, and string lights.
Diwali typically takes place in late October or early November. During the 5 days of celebration, the whole country is covered in twinkling decorations and burning clay lanterns. This holiday is a time for family gatherings, large meals, and gift-giving.
Diwali is celebrated all over India, but some of the most beautiful cities to visit to experience the festival are Delhi, Jaipur, and Kolkata.
Check out our page all about Diwali Festival to learn more about where to go and how to celebrate as a traveler.
Upcoming Diwali Dates:
Like many Indian festivals, the dates of Diwali are based on the Hindu lunar calendar and change slightly every year.
- 2020: November 12–16
- 2021: November 2–6
- 2022: October 22–26
- 2023: November 5–9
2. Holi The main celebration of Holi is a giant country-wide color fight.
Holi is a Hindu festival that takes place in March every year and is the celebration of the victory of good over evil. Holi is often called the Festival of Colors due to the countrywide chaotic colored-power fight that takes place on this day of boisterous celebrations.
The legend behind Holi begins with the demon Holika who was defeated by the hero Prahlada under the guidance of Lord Vishnu. To celebrate the destruction of the demon, on the night of the full moon in March a statue of Holika is symbolically burned and the death of the demon is celebrated the following day with color fights, laughing, dancing, singing, and parades.
This is one of the favorite Indian festivals among travelers who are often drawn to Holi by the contagious joy of the participants and the chance to capture incredible photographs.
Learn more about Holi and how to plan your trip to India during this incredible holiday.
Upcoming Holi Dates:
- 2020: March 10
- 2021: March 28
- 2022: March 18
- 2023: March 7
3. Ganesh Chaturthi The Hindu god Ganesh
Ganesh is an elephant-headed Hindu god who is worshipped for his ability to remove obstacles from the lives of his followers. Although Ganesh is a beloved deity all across India, the city of Mumbai holds a particular love for him and throws a huge festival in his honor every year.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a 10-day festival that celebrates the birth of Ganesh. During the festival, huge handcrafted statues of Ganesh are displayed in pandals or temples throughout Mumbai. Every neighborhood in the city competes to make the best and most beautiful statue of Ganesh.
Throughout the festival, each statue is given offerings and is celebrated with religious rituals until the final day when all the statues are carried to the ocean and submerged. Placing the statues in the sea symbolizes Lord Ganesh leaving the Earth and returning to the heavens.
Learn more about how and where to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi.
Upcoming Ganesh Chaturthi Dates:
Ganesh Chaturthi occurs in August or September every year. The biggest celebrations take place when the statues of Ganesh are paraded through the city towards the sea on the final day.
- 2020: September 2-12
- 2021: August 22-September 1
- 2022: September 10-19
- 2023: September 18-28
4. Durga Puja, Navaratri, Dussehra Statue of Durga during the Durga Puja celebrations
Durga Puja is the largest festival to take place in Kolkata and West Bengal. This festival is a 5-day celebration that commemorates the victory of the goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura.
During the festival, large statues of the goddess Durga with her ten arms are created and placed in temples or pandals throughout the city. Just like during Ganesh Chaturthi, each neighborhood in Kolkata competes to make the most beautiful pandal with the largest and most impressive statue of Durga.
The best thing to do during this holiday is to travel around the city visiting each of the pandals. Every pandal is built with a different theme from "Egypt" to "The Environment".
Learn more about how to celebrate Durga Puja and the legends behind it.
Upcoming Durga Puja Dates:
Durga Puja normally takes place in late September or early October. The creation of the pandals and statues of the goddess begins months in advance.
During the last day of the festival, the statues of Durga are paraded through the city then submerged into the Hugli River.
- 2020: October 22-26
- 2021: October 11-15
- 2022: October 1-5
- 2023: October 20-24
Durga Puja is Happens During Navaratri Statue of Durga and other Hindu deities
In the eastern and northeastern states of India, Durga Puja is synonymous with Navaratri. Navaratri is a festival in the honor of the divine feminine goddess, Durga. Navaratri is celebrated across India while Durga Puja is only celebrated in West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Bihar.
The legend behind Navaratri is about the mythical battle that took place between the Goddess Durga and the demon king Mahishasura, who represents selfishness.
During this festival, devotees of Durga observe a fast and offer prayers for the protection of their health and property. People also dress in different colored dresses each day of the celebrations. To mark the commencement of Navaratri, a ritual called Ghatasthapana is performed to invoke the energy of the goddess.
In West Bengal, on the last day of Durga Puja and Navaratri you can watch as the clay statues of Durga are ceremoniously walked to a river or ocean where they are immersed in the water by people dressed in red.
Going pandal hopping in Kolkata is the best way to experience Durga Puja, where you can see thousands of statues of Durga that have been set up to worship the goddess each with a unique theme or decorative style.
If you travel to northern India, you can watch reenactments of the story of Lord Rama and Ravana as North India doesn’t celebrate Durga, but honors another Hindu legend during Navaratri.
Navaratri is considered to be a period of introspection and purification, and it’s considered important to keep your mind and thoughts pure and focuses on cleansing negative feelings.
Learn more about how to celebrate Navaratri and the differences between Navaratri, Durga Puja, and Dussehra.
Upcoming Navaratri dates:
Navaratri occurs over nine days during the month of Ashvin in the Hindu calendar, which usually falls between September and October.
- 2020: October 17-25 September 2-12
- 2021: October 6-14
- 2022: September 26 – October 4
- 2023: October 15-23
The Tenth Day of Navaratri is Dussehra The displays of the goddess Durga have always been the center attraction
Dussehra is a festival that is celebrated on the last day of Navaratri and honors the victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravana. In India’s northern, central and western states, many performances of the Ramlila story and the burning of large statues of Ravana occur.
Dussehra is also known as Vijayadashami in southern and eastern India, where the holiday primarily honors the victory of the goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura.
During Vijayadashami, large processions carry large clay statues of Hindu deities such as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, and Kartikeya to waterways where they are submerged accompanied by music and chants.
In north India, shows and plays based on the Ramlila are performed at outdoor fairs, along with songs and narrations.
Travelers who visit Mysore during Dussehra will have a chance to see the Mysore Palace with its almost 100,000 lights dazzling at the night show and a torch-light parade at the Bannimantap grounds.
Learn more about how to celebrate Dussehra and the Ramlila plays.
Upcoming Dussehra dates:
Dussehra falls on the 10th day of Navatri in the month of Ashwin in the Hindu calendar which typically in October.
- 2020: October 26
- 2021: October 15
- 2022: October 5
- 2023: October 24
5. Eid al-Fitr Kebabs cooking on Eid in the Chandni Chowk district of Delhi
Eid al-Fitr is celebrated all over the world but is an important holiday in India because of the country's large Muslim community. Islam has contributed a lot to Indian culture especially in North India which has had a long history of Islamic rulers including the Mughals who built incredible structures such as the Taj Mahal and Red Fort.
Eid is a day of celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Because Eid marks the breaking of the fast, this holiday is celebrated with large meals and incredible street food.
When walking through Chandni Chowk bazaar in Delhi during Eid, you'll find families leaving the Jama Masjid after their morning prayers and streets full of sizzling kebabs and sweet desserts.
Learn more about how to experience Eid in India.
Upcoming Eid Dates:
- 2020: May 24
- 2021: May 13
- 2022: May 3
- 2021: April 22
6. Onam Onam Sadhya meal served on a banana leaf
Onam is a 4-day harvest festival that takes place in Kerala. This holiday is a stunning display of Kerala's culture and heritage and is celebrated to commemorate the return of the mythical King Mahabali.
Onam in Kerala is full of cultural events including traditional dances, sports competitions, boat races, and Kathakali performances. Every household also creates a pookalam which is a decoration made from flower petals and rice that is placed on the floor at the entrance of homes and buildings.
Visitors to Kerala during Onam can watch the joyous celebrations or participate in the Onam Sadhya, a large festival feast where dishes are served on banana leaves.
Learn more about Onam and how you can experience it in Kerala.
Upcoming Onam Dates:
The most important day of Onam is called Thiru Onam which directly translates to 'sacred Onam day'. Thiru Onam is when the competitions, boat races, feasts, and temple events all take place.
- Thiru Onam 2020: August 31
- Thiru Onam 2021: August 21
- Thiru Onam 2022: September 8
- Thiru Onam 2023: August 29
7. Pongal Rangoli decoration for Pongal
Pongal is a festival in Tamil Nadu that takes place over 4 days and celebrates the end of the second harvest season with large feasts and family get-togethers. Pongal also marks the return of the sun into the Northern Hemisphere and the return of warmer weather.
During the festival, farmers harvest crops they have been growing all year such as rice, sugarcane, and turmeric. They also clean their homes and make offerings to the Sun God for luck and prosperity.
The third and fourth days of the festival are dedicated to the celebration of cows and birds. On the fourth day, cows are decorated with garlands of marigolds and stalks of corn and paraded through the villages. On the fifth day, food is left out for the birds to thank them for their assistance with the harvest.
Travelers who visit Tamil Nadu during Pongal can also enjoy cattle races, traditional dances, and a special holiday dish called Venpongal.
Learn more about Pongal and how best to experience this harvest holiday.
Upcoming Pongal Dates:
The second day of Pongal is celebrated when the sun crosses back into the northern hemisphere. This typically occurs on January 14th or 15th in the Tamil month of Thai.
- 2020: January 14-17
- 2021: January 13-16
- 2022: January 13-16
- 2023: January 14-17
8. Pushkar Camel Fair Men and their camel at the Pushkar Fair.
Experiencing the Pushkar Camel Fair is a great way to dive into the beautiful desert culture of Rajasthan.
Pushkar is a small town located in the Thar Desert where once a year, thousands of colorfully decorated camels along with their owners arrive for a large carnival. The Pushkar Fair began as an event to buy and sell livestock, but in recent years has been developed by Rajasthan Tourism to be a beautiful display of Rajasthani culture.
The festival is full of great activities including street performances by snake charmers, musicians, and folk dancers as well as camel races and camel beauty contests. You can also check out the Best Mustache and Turban Tying competitions.
The fair itself is often quite crowded and full of people trying to enjoy the carnival activities. If you'd like to avoid the crowds, consider getting a bird's eye view of the festivities from a hot air balloon.
Upcoming Camel Fair Dates:
The Pushkar Camel Fair takes place over a 14-day period in November every year and has become one of the most popular festivals for travelers due to its fun atmosphere and beautiful cultural displays.
The camel trading normally begins before the official start date of the fair.
- 2020: November 22-30
- 2021: November 11-19
- 2022: November 1-9
- 2023: November 20-27
9. Raksha Bandhan Rakhi bracelets symbolize the bond between siblings and protection
Raksha Bandhan, also called Rakhi, is a traditional festival that celebrates the bond between siblings. Raksha Bandhan means 'to tie a knot of protection' in Sanskrit and comes from the festival's main ceremony in which a sister ties a bracelet on the wrist of her brother for his safety and prosperity.
The bracelets used during the festival are called rakhis and are made from colorful woven threads and decorated with beads and stones.
Once a sister has tied the rakhi around the wrist of the brother, he will give her sweets and gifts. The sister will also offer prayers for her brother and place a red mark or tilak on his forehead.
Today, Raksha Bandhan is not only practiced between brothers and sisters but also between friends, cousins, and anyone else who has a sibling-like relationship.
Learn more about Raksha Bandhan and how to tie a special bracelet around the wrist.
Upcoming Raksha Bandhan Dates:
This festival takes place during the full moon of the month of Shravana in the Hindu calendar which normally falls in August.
- 2020: August 3
- 2021: August 22
- 2022: August 11
- 2023: August 30
10. Makar Sankranti Kites flying above Jaipur during Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti is a very holy day in Hindusim and occurs when the sun passes back into the Northern Hemisphere signaling the return of warmth to the country. This festival is celebrated in many different forms across India. In Tamil Nadu, it is celebrated as Pongal.
In North India, Makar Sankranti takes on a life of its own. To celebrate the return of the sun, many Hindu devotees head outside to bathe in holy rivers such as the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Godavari and offer prayers to the sun god.
Makar Sankranti is also celebrated in North India with large kite festivals, the most famous of which is the Jaipur Kite Festival. The Jaipur Kite Festival is one of the most attended festivals in Rajasthan.
The festival includes kite competitions where competitors try to cut the kite strings of their opponents. Last kite flying gets a prize! The city of Jaipur also arranges a friendly kite-flying zone for anyone who doesn't want their kite string cut.
Learn more about Makar Sankranti and how to celebrate the return of the sun.
Upcoming Makar Sankranti Dates:
Makar Sankranti occurs in January after the winter solstice when the sun passes back into the northern hemisphere. This typically occurs on January 14th or 15th every year.
- 2020: January 15
- 2021: January 14
- 2022: January 14
- 2023: January 15
11. Mahashivratri Shiva is worshipped as a supreme being who creates, protects, and transforms the universe
Mahashivratri is a festival dedicated to Shiva, known as “the destroyer god” in the Hindu trinity. In Hinduism, Shiva is worshipped as a supreme being who creates, protects, and transforms the universe. Mahashivratri mainly celebrates the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, and is observed by chanting, fasting, and meditating.
On Mahashivratri, some devotees stay awake all night, singing hymns and devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. While others visit one of the Shiva temples that are beautifully decorated with lights and flowers for the occasion.
Varanasi and Haridwar are the two best places to see the Mahashivratri celebrations. Varanasi is home to one of the most important Shiva temples in the country, Kashi Vishwanath temple. This temple sees over a million Hindus from around the country who come to perform rituals.
Haridwar is famous for its temples and ghats, or steps leading down to a river, where pilgrims bathe to rid themselves of their sins. Devotees often first take a dip in the holy Ganges at Har Ki Pauri ghat, then head to Neelkanth Mahadev Temple to make offerings. By watching the rituals, you will understand more Hinduism and their belief of the soul’s journey to liberation.
Learn more about Mahashivratri and the supreme lord Shiva.
Upcoming Mahashivratri Dates:
The thirteenth or fourteenth night of every lunar month is known as Shivratri. Among the twelve Shivratris that occur in a calendar year, Mahashivratri, the one that occurs in February or March is of the most spiritual significance.
- 2020: February 21
- 2021: March 11
- 2022: February 28
- 2023: March 18
12. Janmashtami Janmashtami, is celebrated across India to honor the Birth of Krishna
The Krishna Janmashtami festival, popularly known as Janmashtami, is celebrated across India to honor the Birth of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Hindus believe that Lord Vishnu was reincarnated as Krishna to bring hope and to the earth and free it from the despair caused by the tyranny of evil rulers.
This two-day festival usually consists of prayers, fasts, devotional songs, and performances of the life of Krishna. On the first day, devotees keep a vigil and fast until midnight at Krishna or Vishnu temples, offering prayers and singing. Lord Krishna's idols are washed and adorned with news clothes and ornaments in the temples.
The highlight of the festival is Dahi Handi which takes place on the second day and is when people form a human pyramid to reach the clay pots of yogurt strung up from tall buildings. If you wish to witness this fun activity then Mumbai is the place to go because Dahi Handi competitions take place at hundreds of locations across the city.
Learn more about Janmashtami and the supreme lord Krishna.
Upcoming Janmashtami Dates:
Janmashtami dates start on the eighth day of Krishna Paksha in the month of Bhadrapada. This usually occurs in late August or early September.
- 2020: August 11-12
- 2021: August 30-31
- 2022: August 18-19
- 2023: September 6-7
Tips for Experiencing a Festival in India
Indian festivals are incredibly beautiful but sometimes be overwhelming for first-time visitors. Check out our tips below to make sure you get the most out of your festival experience.
Tip 1: Book Hotels and Travel Tickets Well in Advance
- Festivals in India are popular times for tourism and draw travelers from all over the world. This means it is very important to book hotels and travel tickets well in advance. When making bookings, you will not only be competing with international visitors but also with Indian travelers returning home for the holidays.
- During Holi and Diwali, almost all major Indian cities see an influx of travelers. This is especially true in Rajasthan and Delhi.
- Rajasthan is also very busy around the time of the Kite Festival and the Pushkar Camel Festival.
Tip 2: Stay Safe in Large Crowds
- Many festivals in India involve large raucous crowds celebrating in the streets. This is especially true of Holi, the last day of the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja, and the Pushkar Camel Fair.
- When in large crowds always make sure to protect your valuables. Carry a bag that zips closed and is worn across your body. It may also be a good idea to invest in a money belt for added safety.
- Solo female travelers need to be extra careful during festivals that involve large crowds. During Holi, it is often recommended that female travelers stay with a group and only go out in the early morning.
Tip 3: Pick the Festival that is Best for You
- Make sure that you choose an Indian festival that you know you will enjoy. If you don't like large crowds, its best to avoid Holi. Even though the pictures of Holi are beautiful, the entire celebration takes place in crowds of people who will throw colors and water at you without mercy.
- Diwali is a great festival to experience for travelers who want to see a more lowkey and family-centered celebration. Diwali is not a good choice for those who are sensitive to loud noises because fireworks are likely to explode throughout the night.
- Eid, Durga Puja, Onam, and Pongal are great festivals for foodies.
- Photographers will love Jaipur Kite Festival and Holi, but special camera protection will be required during Holi to keep the colored powders from ruining your gear.